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In order to legally buy a gun in South Africa, one must first obtain a firearm license — whether for self-defence, hunting, or sports shooting.
The Firearms Control Act of 2000 (FCA) and subsidiary legislation make up South Africa’s current firearms regulating framework. Every firearm requires its own license, and applicants must first get a Competency Certificate.
Such a Competency Certificate must be provided with an application to own a firearm, trade in weapons, manufacture firearms, or be licensed as a gunsmith under the FCA.
To obtain a Competency Certificate, the candidate must:
- Be a South African citizen or permanent resident
- Be at least twenty-one years old
- Be a “fit and proper person” for the specific license
- Be stable and without a tendency for violence
- Not have a substance-abuse problem
- Have no convictions for crimes related to violence, dishonesty, recklessness, or instability in the five years preceding the application.
The competency process
The process to obtain a Competency Certificate consists of relevant proficiency training, a test following the training to obtain a proficiency training certificate and eventually obtaining the SAPS Competency Certificate.
Prospective firearm owners must first successfully undergo the prescribed proficiency training at a South African Professional Firearms Trainers Council (PFTC) accredited training centre.
Applicants must complete the required proficiency training according to the type of firearm they wish to apply for.
The proficiency training unit standards are the following:
Demonstrate Knowledge of the Firearms Control Act 60 of 2000 (Unit Standard 117705) as well as the relevant theoretical and practical tests (Use of a Handgun Unit Standard 119649, Use of a Manual Rifle Unit Standard 119651, Use of a Self-loading rifle or carbine Unit Standard 119650 and/or Use of a Shotgun Unit Standard 119652).
Proficiency training certificate
Upon completion of the proficiency training relevant to the firearm as prescribed, the applicant will receive a PFTC Statement of Results certificate and a Proficiency Training certificate.
SAPS Competency Certificate
Once an applicant is in possession of the above mentioned certificate, he or she may apply to the SAPS for a SAPS Competency Certificate.
The applicant must complete the Application for a Competency Certificate (SAPS517) with a black pen only and submit the required supporting documentation together with the SAPS517 to the Designated Firearms Officer (DFO) in the area where the applicant ordinarily reside.
Applicants who already possess a SAPS Competency for one or more of the proficiency training unit standards but wish to do further unit standards will be required to submit a Further Competency Application (SAPS517a) for a Further Competency Certificate to the SAPS.
Applicants that are under the age of 21 but want to apply for competency, also need to complete the required proficiency training with an accredited training centre but after that the applicant must join an accredited club or association to obtain dedicated hunting and/or sport shooting status.
When applying to the SAPS for the competency certificate the applicant needs to provide such a dedicated hunting and/or sport shooting status certificate from his or her association, together with a letter from a parent or guardian verifying that the underage applicant is in fact an active dedicated hunter or sport shooter.
The applicant also needs to provide proof of his or her active participation in hunting or sport shooting.
Firearm licence application
Once you have obtained the Competency Certificate, you can fill in the firearm application form, attach the necessary documents and submit the form and the corresponding documents to the Designated Firearms Officer (DFO).
How long does it take to obtain a Firearm Competency Certificate?
Many applicants are currently waiting for a firearm licence application to be processed. People will have to wait 120 working days or more because the pandemic and firearm amnesty period have caused severe delays in the application process.
Firearm licence applications are currently taking at least 120 working days to complete, instead of the original 90 days the SAPS had first indicated.
More delays than usual have been caused by staff shortages due to Covid-19 and the firearm amnesty period, which ran until 31 January 2021, has further compounded delays.
According to a statement by police spokesperson Brigadier Vishnu Naidoo earlier this year, the South African Police Service Central Firearm Registry has been severely affected by staff shortages due to the pandemic, which has resulted in unexpected consequences on the service delivery front.
During the height of the pandemic, SAPS members were operating at reduced capacity to mitigate the spread of the virus and where positive cases were detected, buildings were also evacuated for purposes of decontamination, adding to delays.
The firearm amnesty period declared from 1 December 2019 to 31 May 2020 and later extended to 31 January 2021, has also compounded the delays in the process because the total number of firearm licence applications increased by more than 80% for the duration of amnesty.
Due to an entirely different process to that of a normal renewal of licences, such applications inevitably prolonged the turn-around time for their finalisation.
These delays resulted in a much longer turnaround time for all firearm licence applications and at the time the SAPS had extended the period to 120 days.
How long does a competence and firearm license take from the SAPS?
It depends on the load they have, but applicants should allow 12-15 weeks for the competence and another 3-6 weeks for the license.
How long does it take to obtain the proficiency training certificate?
When the tests have been marked, the certificates are normally printed immediately for applicants to collect, normally in the same week.
How long is a competency certificate valid
SAPS Competency certificate validity will be interpreted in one of the following ways by a police station, so you should confirm this with your DFO:
- Your Competency is linked to your longest valid licence’s expiry date.
- Competency for handgun is valid for 5 years and for rifle, shotgun or self-loading rifle is valid for 10 years.
- Your SAPS Competency certificate is valid 10 years from date of issue.
How many proficiency training courses can you do?
You can complete as many courses as you like, you don’t need to own the specific firearms for your training.
How long does it take to complete the open book tests?
It takes the time it will take you to read and fill in the questions.
What if you “fail” your tests?
You just redo them until you pass it.
How much does it cost?
- Competency certificate: R84,00
- Firearm licence: R168,00
Shalto Schoeman from Fortis Pro-Active Defence Solutions says the following tips are essential in making sure you pass your test the first time and what you should do afterward to keep your accreditation.
- Make sure your firearm trainer is accredited.
- It is advisable to complete your basic unit standards first before moving on to more advanced unit standards, as the one builds on the other.
- Do not lose your certification. Your firearms trainer only keeps records of the certifications for five years.
- Always make a copy when handing it in to SAPS.
- Make sure you get your statement of results.